Milan exhibition of Chinese culture provokes protests

Image copyright AFP Image caption An Italian court has criticised an art exhibition of drawings depicting traditional Chinese customs and behaviour as immoral

A controversial art exhibition featuring drawings of traditional Chinese customs and behaviour has opened in Milan, drawing the ire of the Chinese embassy.

Since late 2017, the Chinese embassy has repeatedly protested the installation in Milan.

The drawings depict children dancing, playing corn hole, drawing cats, and swimming underwater.

Activists say they are “promoting and endorsing” more Western values.

The depictions draw on traditional Chinese customs such as family life, natural childhood activities and associated values such as pride, strength and greed.

Image copyright AFP Image caption The exhibition has received heavy criticism from China’s embassy in Milan since the content was shown in 2017

Critics say the paintings, intended to be “sexually provocative”, are immoral and not in accordance with common cultural norms.

In a written statement, the Chinese embassy in Milan said that portraying Chinese life “cannot be permitted, but attempts to distil Chinese values such as morality, modesty and justice can in principle be understood”.

The embassy “regrets” that Milan’s police had officially issued an “inconsistent law and order decree” banning some exhibits of the exhibition, according to a statement released to Italian media.

The exhibition has opened to two events. It is expected to remain open through July.

BBC correspondent Simon Walker in Rome says that China is cracking down on traditional Western values.

“There is a worrying trend here, and one that clearly reflects the Chinese government’s views on Western ideas of harmony and freedom.

“This is as much a challenge to Western ideas of freedom of expression as it is to traditional Chinese customs and values.”

Image copyright AFP Image caption The artists on display are all 20-something local art students

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said his country “always accepts art in all its forms”.

In February, China’s ambassador to Germany said the project should be “temporarily stopped”.

Artists on display include Vittorio Sgarbi, who has previously had the Chinese map painted onto his body.

Claudio Rosso and Michele Valli have drawn portraits of Mafiosi and the mafia boss Carlo Gallo, and local police officers featured in Chinese maps.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, right, has said the exhibition is not in opposition to Chinese culture

Image copyright AFP Image caption Artist Mafio Sgarbi’s public art includes his body being painted with Chinese map

Italy’s Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, who was on hand at the opening, said he hoped the exhibition would enhance understanding between China and Europe.

But Alessandro Fracassi, a student at Milan’s Autonomous University of Siena, told the Associated Press that “for the government of China to come and monitor these artists to listen to what they are saying is a danger”.

Art curator Luciano Caskas, who helped organise the exhibition, said the works were not “anti-Chinese” or “anti-Western”.

In a defence of the exhibition published to Instagram, Mr Caskas said: “As a country that is changing, we need to connect with a culture that is changing. There’s a huge difference between the old and the new.”

However, another student, Francesco Bellavia, told AFP: “It’s very offensive to the Chinese. They don’t even want to be taught anything about themselves.”

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